Army seeks huge funds to counter China, Pakistan

The 12th Army Plan charts out an ambitious roadmap to improve the combat ratio against both China and Pakistan, upgrade military infrastructure along the “northern borders”, ensure third-generation night-fighting capabilities and induct attack helicopters.

Another thrust area in the 2012-2017 plan is to “overcome the slippages” or the “critical hollowness” in arms and ammunition that seriously hobbled the 1.13-million strong force in the 11th Plan period, say sources.

The Army has projected a requirement of over Rs 10 lakh crore for the 12th Plan period spread over five annual budgets. But, as is the practice, the finance ministry is likely to approve only around 60% of this amount being demanded.

Incidentally, the Army’s budget is pegged at Rs 96,564 crore this fiscal year, with the capital allocation for new weapons being just 24% of it. However, defence minister A K Antony’s promises to seek a mid-year hike in the overall Rs 1,93,408 crore in the 2012-2013 budget reportedly on the basis of a deepening military nexus between China and Pakistan.

New Army chief General Bikram Singh, who left for Nepal on Tuesday, on his part, has laid down that his top-most priority is to “hone” the Army’s “operational readiness” through modernization, up-to-date training and “jointness” with Navy and IAF. This will take a lot of doing. The Army, after all, painted a grim picture in its 11th Plan (2007-2012) review, pointing at huge operational gaps in artillery, aviation, air defence, night-fighting, ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and specialized tank and rifle ammunition.

With around Rs 41,000 crore required to plug just these “current deficiencies”, the defence ministry is only now trying to fast-track arms acquisitions worth over Rs 15,000 crore. A crucial project during the 12th Plan is to raise the new mountain strike corps, with two specialized divisions for high-altitude areas, at a cost of well over Rs 60,000 crore.

Dedicated for “rapid reaction ground force capability” against China, this corps will have its HQs in Panagarh (West Bengal). It will add to the two new infantry divisions already raised at Zakama (Nagaland) and Missamari (Assam).

Capability development along the “northern borders” facing China, to be completed by 2020-2021, is pegged at another Rs 26,155 crore. Ongoing infrastructure development in the Eastern Army Command, at a cost of Rs 9,243 crore, in turn, is slated for completion by 2016-2017.

The Army also plans to spend over Rs 40,000 crore on “night enablement” of its mechanized forces, with over 3,000 tanks and 1,900 infantry combat vehicles, as well as infantry battalions. Long-term plans for enhancement of “aviation assets” include at least a squadron each of attack/armed, reconnaissance/observation and tactical battle-support helicopters for each of the 13 corps in the Army. Over this, each of the six regional or operational commands will at least get “a flight” of five fixed-wing aircraft for tactical airlift of troops and equipment, say sources.

(TOI 10JUL12)

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